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‘We lost Greenville’: Wildfire decimates California town

The Dixie Fire, swollen by bone-dry vegetation and 40 mph (64 kph) gusts, raged through the northern Sierra Nevada community of Greenville on Wednesday.

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California Published on: August 06, 2021 7:38 IST
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Flames from the Dixie Fire consume a pickup truck on Highway 89 south of Greenville on Thursday

A 3-week-old wildfire engulfed a tiny Northern California mountain town, leveling most of its historic downtown and leaving blocks of homes in ashes as crews braced for another explosive run of flames Thursday amid dangerous weather. The Dixie Fire, swollen by bone-dry vegetation and 40 mph (64 kph) gusts, raged through the northern Sierra Nevada community of Greenville on Wednesday. A gas station, church, hotel, museum and bar were among the fixtures gutted in the town dating back to California’s gold rush era where some wooden buildings were more than 100 years old.

The fire “burnt down our entire downtown. Our historical buildings, families homes, small businesses, and our children’s schools are completely lost,” Plumas County Supervisor Kevin Goss wrote on Facebook.

“We lost Greenville tonight,” U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, who represents the area, said in an emotional Facebook video. “There’s just no words.”

As the fire’s north and eastern sides exploded Wednesday, the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office issued an urgent warning online to the town’s approximately 800 residents: “You are in imminent danger and you MUST leave now!”

A similar warning was issued Thursday as flames pushed toward the southeast in the direction of another tiny mountain community, Taylorsville, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) southeast of Greenville.

To the northwest, crews were protecting homes in the town of Chester. Residents there were among thousands under evacuation orders or warnings in several counties.

No injuries or deaths were immediately reported.

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Margaret Elysia Garcia, an artist and writer who has been in Southern California waiting out the fire, watched video of her Greenville office in flames. It’s where she kept every journal she’s written in since second grade and a hand edit of a novel on top of her grandfather’s roll-top desk.

“We’re in shock. It’s not that we didn’t think this could happen to us,” she said. “At the same time, it took our whole town.”

Firefighters had to deal with people reluctant to leave on Wednesday. Their refusals meant that firefighters spent precious time loading people into cars to ferry them out, said Jake Cagle, an incident management operations section chief.

“We have firefighters that are getting guns pulled out on them, because people don’t want to evacuate,” he said.

The blaze that broke out July 14 is the largest burning in California and had blackened over 504 square miles (1,305 square kilometers), an area larger than Los Angeles. The cause was under investigation. But Pacific Gas & Electric has said it may have been sparked when a tree fell on one of its power lines.

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